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The Russian National Ballet’s Beauty
By JEFFREY GANTZ  |  April 9, 2008
GOOD SETS AND COSTUMES, but the drama was sleepy, and the dancing eventually followed suit.

The Russian National Ballet Theatre of Moscow’s previous appearance in Boston was a one-night stand of Swan Lake on April Fool’s Day 2005. Last weekend, the young (founded in 1999) troupe was back at the Cutler Majestic Theatre for three performances — two of Romeo and Juliet and one of The Sleeping Beauty — in the hope of forming a beautiful friendship, or at least a long-term relationship. The Sleeping Beauty that I saw Sunday afternoon was better than that Swan Lake, but at a top price of $85 in a town with one of America’s best ballet companies, these visits remain a dodgy proposition.

Not that the Cutler Majestic wasn’t largely filled on Sunday. And there was much to applaud, starting with the Russian National Ballet Theatre Orchestra, which, led by Alexey Osetrov, improved on the Sofia Symphony Orchestra that accompanied the troupe in 2005, its sound, in the Russian tradition, agreeably nasal. Only during the wedding celebration did the brass start to drop out. The sets included a towering arcade with pink baldachin over the royal bassinet for Aurora’s christening, a formal French garden with fountain and distant château for her coming-out, and a massive forest for Désiré and his party. The costumes, shades of brown to start with, were restrained period French, with only Carabosse and the King and Queen in wigs. The staging didn’t overcrowd the small Majestic space and didn’t seem thin, either. And the young (25 or 26), willowy Aurora, Katerina Kukhar, remained in control at Osetrov’s stately tempi and steady on pointe in the treacherous Rose Adagio (looking nervous only when she had to move from one suitor’s hand to another’s). She even created a sense of momentum as she moved down the line of suitors and into the Rose Adagio’s climax. The still younger (20 or 21) Désiré, Olexander Stoianov, had big beaten jumps and some speed in his manège.

As a drama, however, this Beauty slept. The first confrontation between Carabosse (D. Goloubev) and the Lilac Fairy (Natalia Kungurtseva) wasn’t well mimed, and there were no spinning wheels to establish the thorn/spindle metaphor whereby Aurora pricks her finger on the evils of unprivileged life. Catalabutte (O. Trubitsin) and Carabosse both forsook acting to stalk the stage and chow down on the scenery. In most productions, Désiré fights his way past Carabosse to reach Aurora and wake her with a kiss; here he stood by as the Lilac Fairy did everything, and if he got close enough even to try to kiss his princess, I couldn’t see it behind the scrim. The endings of both acts were truncated — the music didn’t even resolve.

And the dancing faltered. Best of the unidentified five Fairies was Canary, followed by Candide and Violente. Kungurtseva’s Lilac Fairy looked tall and imposing, but she didn’t attempt anything very difficult (no Italian fouettés, for example), and she paid little attention to the music, at one point hopping a full beat ahead of Osetrov. K. Usmanov’s Bluebird made a very modest attempt at brisés volés; the comedy between Puss in Boots and the White Cat and then Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf was generic and perfunctory. Everything got slower and slower, and the climactic Pas de Deux, which had minimal content to begin with, climaxed with posing. It made one want to put in a wake-up call for May 2009, when Boston Ballet will stage The Sleeping Beauty as its last presentation at the Wang Theatre before moving to the Opera House.

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